Mechanical know-how and a flair for the custom look set a path from the high seas to the high roads for yacht engineer Paul Simpson.
How and when did you get into yachting?
I moved from Australia to Fort Lauderdale in 2013 and got my first yacht job helping a guy with a 53-foot 1987 Hatteras to sand the cap rails and change the oil in one of his generators. From there, I worked my way up to chief [engineer] on everything from a 120-foot Benetti to a 165-foot Feadship.
How did you get the idea for your business?
It really started because there were so many unreliable people who took advantage of yachties. I’d leave my motorcycles and my cars with mechanics, and then they’d come back damaged. Or I’d go away for charters or for seasons, and when I’d turn back up in Fort Lauderdale, they wouldn’t have the jobs done.
In yachting you’re only in town for two weeks, or a week, or maybe sometimes a few days, so I’d come back and miss out my opportunity to go do whatever it was I wanted to go do with my motorcycle.
So, my two best friends and I decided we just needed to open up our own shop. Our clients were originally friends of friends and other yachties, and then it just snowballed into a proper business with a retail outlet and five staff members. We do everything from oil changes, brake jobs and tires right through to complete custom builds, custom paintwork and transformations — a full-service shop. We do everything.
Do you have advice to other crew ready for a new career?
Well, the first thing to get out of yachting is you just have to make the decision to get out, because it’s so easy and so lucrative to stay in yachting. I thought I would be in yachting for 3 or 4 years, and then 9 years later I’m still in yachting. You get entrapped by the fun times, the limitless amount of money, the parties, the socializing. Before you know it, you’ve been doing it for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. But it’s a hollow, transient, temporary lifestyle. There’s no loyalty within the job — even if you’ve been working on a yacht for a few years, before you’ve even got your stuff packed up and you’re down on the dock, there are already five people lined up to take your job. And realistically, you’re not doing anything for yourself; you’re just being paid to do a job. Whereas, if you find something that you’re passionate about and leave — actually make the effort to leave and not take the easy option out — it’s the only way you’ll ever get out. You have to just choose something and stick to it.
Do you miss working aboard yachts?
I do. I miss the travel. I miss the comraderie, I miss the parties. I miss just the fun times. You know, there’s nothing like being down in St. Martin and St. Barths, on the beach in the Caribbean, taking a half-million-dollar tender across to have a picnic for your guests. You’re in some of the most beautiful places that the world could ever offer. I do miss the travel and the exotic locations — oh, yeah, totally.
Are there advantages in yachting that benefit your offboarding career?
A hundred percent. Because, when you do leave, people still call you and ask you to do another job. There are so many opportunities to boost your income while you build your business. Even now, I still do temp jobs, or I’ll look after people’s boats for them, or friends who are engineers need me to fill in for them while they’re on holiday. It’s amazing — you go in and you’ve got your chef meals, you’ve got your uniform, and you’ve got your set work hours, plus there’s a bunch of fun people to hang out with for a few weeks. I look forward to the occasional temp job. But, you know, as a now 42-year-old man, I want to have a house, have a dog, have a family. I don’t want to necessarily be away for months at a time and sleep in bunk. It’s just not me.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far with your business?
The biggest difference between yachting and having a business is having to be driven every day to be able to create your own future. And that’s where most people fail. Because it’s just easier to work on a boat and get paid a really good salary, regardless of what happens. If you make a mistake, or you’re not very good at your job, or you whatever it is, you’re always going to get paid. The captain can crash the boat, and then they’ll fix the boat and the next charter comes, and you’ll get paid. Whereas, when you own your own business, if you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid. If you don’t have customers, you don’t get paid. If you get a bad reputation, you’re not going to get a paycheck. That’s the hardest thing.
What does the future hold for Viking Customs?
We’re still growing. We’ve opened up a muscle car shop, so we build bikes and we build cars now. We’ve moved more into the performance industry, so we’re looking at doing more performance-oriented car builds. If you want to go fast, you can come and see us — that’s the market that we’re more looking toward now. It seems that the people who make it in the industry spend a lot of money on social media marketing, and it’s not our forté. So we’re learning how to do that as well.
Check out Viking Customs at vikingcustomsfl.com.
Don’t miss out!
Join Viking Customs for “Full Throttle Fridays,” a muscle car and motorcycle show with food trucks and live music, 7–11 p.m. on the first Friday of every month at LauderAle Brewery, 3305 SE 14th Ave., in Fort Lauderdale.